Posts Tagged ‘Column’

One Saturday back in 1996, my ten-year-old self was lying on the floor of the lounge room doing not very much, when a burst of uproarious maternal laughter broke the silence. Curious, I turned and saw that the source of my mother’s evident amusement was a purple-spined book called Get a Grip.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked, sidling over.

‘Oh,’ said my mother, seemingly a little startled that I’d taken an interest, ‘nothing. You wouldn’t be interested.’

Assuming her goal was to convince me to go away quickly and leave her in peace, this statement was a massive tactical error. As keen readers of this blog may recall, I was – and, to a certain extent, remain – a contrary specimen, and whereas dogged exhortations from both my parents to read this book or try that movie had always roundly failed, this simple statement as to my probable disinterest kindled in me a fierce determination, as was always the case, to prove myself the opposite of expectations. Thus, instead of wandering away and resuming my aimless floor-loitering, I instead requested a glance at the book in question – specifically, of the section which had caused my mother to laugh out loud. It was a column (the book itself being a collection of columns) called Nuevo Foodo, which listed various foods or food-related terms and gave each one a humorous and misleading definition: junket, for instance, was down as “an overseas restaurant review.”

My mother, curse her eyes, had been right – I didn’t understand most of the jokes, and though I feigned both comprehension and laughter, her expression as I handed back the book suggested that she saw right through my cunning façade, with added eyebrow-waggling inferring that, while she was pleasantly surprised with my effort at comprehension, I could now hover off and let her get on with what was (to adults, damn them!) a very amusing book indeed.

Well! I was not so easily thwarted. Though I did, on that particular occasion, leave my maternal unit alone, my next act was to borrow the book as soon as my mother had finished it. I felt that I’d been challenged, somehow – not by the material itself, which wouldn’t ordinarily have caught my youthful attention, but by the suddenly plausible (and therefore worrying) notion that it was possible for adults to know things about me which I didn’t know myself. This was not something I wanted to be true, and so I resolved to disprove it. But though I hadn’t really understood the Neuvo Foodo piece, I had nonetheless experienced the tantalising goosebumps of near-comprehension: an almost physical certainty that even though I didn’t quite understand now, I would – or could – soon, and furthermore, that when I did, the knowledge would prove important. It felt as though the book itself somehow contained the whole adult world – a foreign realm towards which I was inexorably voyaging without so much as a map – and if I could glean even a fraction of sense from Get a Grip, then it would prove a worthwhile and profitable endeavour.

That’s a lot of significance to place on any book at the age of ten, let alone a collection of humorous newspaper columns with an emphasis on political and social commentary, but despite this tremendous pressure, the book itself not only met my expectations, but exceeded them. Though there were still some jokes I didn’t quite get, or references I didn’t understand, it turned out that Neuvo Foodo was, for my purposes, the most difficult piece in the whole book. Being already acquainted with political satire in the form of John Clarke’s The Games, I took to the rest of the content like a duck to water. It would be wrong to say that Kaz Cooke’s writing was the first real interest I shared with my mother, but it fast became one of the most significant ones, in which category it remains to this day. We’d quote various pieces to one another, such that certain phrases entered our family lexicon through dint of overuse; on car trips, I’d sometimes read particular favourites aloud, to our mutual amusement.

Though I didn’t quite get to the point of following Cooke’s work as it was published week by week in the papers, when her second collection of columns, Get Another Grip, was released in 1998, my mother was first in line for a copy. Once again, we both read the book and laughed ourselves silly: I was twelve by then, a genuine high school student, and I’d started to find that some of the jokes which had eluded me even a year ago, or which had never seemed quite as meaningful in the scheme of things, were increasingly interpretable and prescient. By 2001, when the final collection of columns was released, I was a fully-fledged left-wing teenager with a vehement interest in the political misdemeanours of the Howard government: her writing had never been more relevant. This time, it was me and not my mother who fronted up to the book counter in David Jones to ask if they had a copy. Given that the latest title was Living With Crazy Buttocks, this took no small amount of courage on my behalf, but though I felt embarrassed at asking for such a ridiculous-sounding volume in public, the look on the saleswoman’s face at my unflinching, snigger-free delivery of the word buttocks gave me such a heady rush of adrenaline that I was almost giddy. I had used an amusing anatomical term in front of a prim-faced employee of a major retail corporation for the very first time and emerged victorious! After that, actually purchasing the book felt like an afterthought, but one I was no less eager to sink my teeth in once I’d settled down.

Kaz Cooke is witty, irreverent and fiercely intelligent. She takes aim at the fashion industry and body image. She jeers at homophobes, at big business, at racism and bigotry. She defends Aboriginal land rights, gets angry at the government, argues in favour of feminism and women’s rights and laughs at the ridiculousness of modern life, and all in a way which is, both to me now and to my fledgeling self, hilarious, informative and deeply spot-on. I bought and read her fiction novel, The Crocodile Club, and loved it. I collected all her little books, beginning with the Little Book of Stress (a response to the unctuous Little Book of Calm) and kept them in a special shelf by the bedside. When given a copy of her non-fiction book for teenage girls, Real Gorgeous: The Truth About Body and Beauty, as a birthday present, I read it cover to cover. In every important respect, her work informed the person I grew up to be – not just because I loved her humour and agreed with her politics, but because the combination of those things, along with the fact that I’d been reading her since the age of ten, meant that, no matter how depressed or ugly or unnatural or out of place I felt during my teenage years, I always had a touchstone of common sense, kindness and laughter to which I could return.

This week, for the first time in a couple of years, I’ve reread all her columns from cover to cover, and laughed all over again. Though my copies of her little books, Real Gorgeous and The Crocodile Club have sadly been lost in successive moves, Get a Grip, Get Another Grip and Living With Crazy Buttocks have accompanied me all the way to Scotland. They still speak to me, just as they always did, and coming to the end of the third and final compilation, I still felt sad that there wasn’t another one waiting. But who knows? Perhaps there will be, one day.

Thanks, Kaz. You helped me grow up – and more, to have fun doing it.

As with just about every other slang word or phrase in my vocabulary, I don’t remember the first time I said that so-and-so had hooked up. If I had to guess, I’d say it was somewhere in my mid-teens, which is when (ahem) the term first properly started to have personal relevance. For those unfamiliar with the phraseology, it essentially means that the object met, kissed, hung out and/or had a one night stand with someone. The connotative emphasis is on casual (but usually sexual) interaction, while the term is both standard and non-judgemental. As far as I know, it’s been around since at least the nineties, but apparently some people are only just getting a handle on it, as per this curious op-ed in today’s New York Times: The Demise of Dating.  I say ‘curious’ because, right up until the final three paragraphs, it seems like the writer, one Charles M. Blow, is onside with both word and meaning, or at least an impartial observer. It turns out he isn’t. And that startled me, because I’d more or less assumed that hooking up was a pretty understandable phenomenon.

Blow’s complaint is both simple and, in the context, nonsensical: that instead of training to date, young folks nowadays have lost the ability to get to know one another. This seems to be a fairly unintuitive conclusion, especially given Blow’s earlier assertion that hooking up takes place mostly between friends: that is to say, among groups of people who already know each other. Despite acknowledging that this is a modern reversal of the dating structure he remembers from college, Blow fails to link the reversal to a changed social reality. When he talks about girls tiring of hooking up sooner than boys because ‘they want it to lead to a relationship’ and later realising ‘that it’s not a good way to find a spouse’, he is parroting gender stereotypes more closely aligned to the 1950’s than today. The idea that girls might be looking for neither spouses nor relationships seems alien to the writer, as does any notion that men might desire these things, too. One can readily see why Blow needed the concept explained to him; but even so, his understanding still falls short.

Personally, I think it’s a sign of progress that people no longer train to date; and in fact, the word date itself feels dated, or at least decidedly American – another hangover of Blow’s (I suspect distant) youth. I don’t recall that I ever dated: instead, I hooked up or went out. The whole idea of dating as a means of getting to know the opposite sex smacks of an era before co-ed friendships were the norm, wherein partners couldn’t be drawn from one’s existing circle of acquaintances, but had to be sought – and interviewed – externally. In reality, such a concept of dating has been fundamentally usurped by mixed friendships in an era of sexual liberation, such that when friends hook up, the ‘dating’ part has effectively already happened.

Random hook-ups are also common, but hardly a point of contention, unless one objects to premarital shenannigans. Ultimately, both Blow and his source, Professor Bogle, seem unintentionally antiquated. Kudos to them for grappling with a changed world, but despite trying for objective analysis, both end up reconfiguring the concept against their own, older ideals. Hooking up is here to stay, friends – and that, I think, is a good thing.

Behold! – my latest column, Jingo Bells, is now available at Halo 17 for your intellectual and viewing pleasure.  This week, I detail the trials and travails of patriotism. Come one, come all!

Inspired by Proposition 8, my latest column over at Halo 17, The Case for Gay Marriage, is up. Check it out and dig the politics!

Indeedy-do: my new column is up at Halo 17. This one’s on sex education.

Have fun, kiddiwinks!

Generation Why

Posted: October 8, 2008 in Ink & Feather
Tags: , , ,

My latest column, Generation Why, is now up at Halo 17. So why not check it out?

Yes, it’s that time again – my most recent coumn, Hung to the Over, is now up at Halo 17. Do feel free to drop by and leave ludicrously flattering comments.

That is all.

My fornightly column at Halo 17, called the Unicorn Evils, is now in business. First article: The Modern Apocalypse. Enjoy!